By Joan Z. Rough
It’s a late summer day. I’m sitting in the shade clutching my newly finished memoir. A multitude of boxes arrived the other day via UPS and I’m still in shock. It’s been six years since the word memoir popped into my head at a writing retreat. And here it is. The real thing. The cover is smooth and beautiful. I find myself petting it, as I would my dog, Sam, now fourteen years old, and aging well.
I open the book to Chapter One. The last time I read it was back in June, just before it went off to be printed. I was so tired of it at the time and felt sick to my stomach whenever I picked it up. I’d been rereading it over and over again for months, looking for typos and such. It was a huge relief to hand it back to my publisher and send it on its way to completion. Reading it now, the words are fresh and new. It’s almost like reading someone else’s story for the first time. I had no idea it would feel so good to actually hold it in my hands, like a newborn.
The process of writing my story was long and hard. I was coming to terms with the loss of my abusive mother, a move to a new home, a brother who would die within months, and I had been newly diagnosed with PTSD. In the course of being my mother’s caretaker during her last years, memories of her early abuse of me as child kept arising. During her last years, she lived in my home with me, and though she had her own separate living space, I couldn’t get away from her and the demands she made on my life. I tried to make her as comfortable as possible as her health failed. When she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, things got worse. The sicker she got, the meaner she became. I thought I was losing my mind.
After she died I began seeing a therapist who specialized in working with people suffering from trauma. I began digging through the journals I’d kept during Mom’s time with me. At one point during the process of recovery, I decided to treat myself to a week long write r’s retreat out in New Mexico. Words started flowing out onto paper. Later, I took a life writing class and hired the teacher to be my writing coach. As a ghostwriter with a background in psychology, he helped me get the first draft out and sent off to a developmental editor and then my publisher.
During the process, I often said, it didn’t matter if my book ever got published. What was important to me at the time was getting the life I had hidden away from myself out where I could see it. I wanted to make it better. How could I become a whole person if I didn’t recognize where I had been? How would I know where I was going if I didn’t allow myself to be honest about my life and my feelings?
Now published, I see how I’ve changed over time, integrating all of the broken pieces of myself into one person. Reading through what I wrote, I know that my story can help others … those taking on the care of an elderly parent or those searching for a more authentic life. I don’t think my work is over. My journals house more stories and lessons ready to see the light of day.
Joan Z. Rough is a visual artist, poet, and writer of nonfiction. Her memoir,Scattering Ashes, debuts today September 20. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals and are included in the anthology, Some Say Tomato, by Mariflo Stephens. Her first book, AUSTRALIAN LOCKER HOOKING: A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, was published in 1980. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Visit her online and read her blog at http://joanzrough.com.
Photo Credit: Martyn Kayle